Getting the gang back together again always seems like a good idea. I went to a reunion at Chancellor’s School several years ago and met up with teachers and ex-pupils (now in their forties) that I hadn’t seen since 1990 and it was brilliant. Reminiscing about the old days, catching up on news and going back to my old classroom and pretending to tell two adults (former students) off was absolutely brilliant. On the other hand, many years ago I got plagued by phone calls from someone I knew at Royal Holloway College who kept telling me that his time there were the best years of his life. I suppose that might be true but it seems very sad to me to be continually thinking that every day in the present is a bit of a let down.
Karen Ann Kennedy, a life coach who writes for The Huffington Post says that there is a difference between thinking about the past and living in it. It can be healthy to watch reruns of your favourite sitcoms because there are no surprises and this can lead to feelings of comfort and happiness. Being stuck in the past because you think things will never be as good again is not necessarily good for your mental health. Someone who isn’t happy with their life may well try to take comfort from living in the past but all this does is avoid dealing with problems. “It’s much easier to reminisce about your high school sweetheart than it is to deal with the troubles you are currently having in your marriage. It’s nicer to daydream about when you were a star athlete, than it is to look at yourself in the mirror and deal with the extra 60, 70, 80 pounds you’re currently carrying around. If you’re currently unemployed or underemployed, it feels better to go back to a time when you were the boss, when people were depending on you, and when they respected and looked up to you.” The thinking behind a lot of life coaching is to learn to take control of the present to make for a better future.
What if you used to be in the world’s most popular and critically adored pop group and you find that your business manager has ripped you off for millions of pounds and you are apprehensive that you may not be able to afford your extravagant lifestyle – buying expensive cars and managing a huge house? In George Harrison’s case, you reluctantly agree to Paul McCartney’s suggestion of reforming The Beatles.
The Beatles had agreed to release a film, called “Anthology”, which traced the history of the band. This project had been started by Neil Aspinall, their road manager and head of Apple Corps, in 1969. In order to promote the film, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr used a tape that Yoko Ono had provided of John Lennon making four demos of songs he had made in his apartment in the Dakota building in 1977. The songs were “Free As A Bird”, “Grow Old With Me”, “Real Love”, and “Now and Then”. “Free As A Bird” was the first single released by The “Threetles”, as they were referred to. “Real Love” was the second single they released and John Lennon’s version had been released in 1988 on the “Imagine John Lennon” soundtrack. “Now And Then” was originally intended to be the third single but work on it was scrapped when George Harrison expressed a strong dislike of it. The Threetles never worked on “Grow Old With Me”, but John Lennon’s version had been released on his posthumous album, “Milk And Honey” and Ringo Starr sung a version of it on his 2019 album, “What’s My Name”.
George Harrison was quite reluctant to work with Paul McCartney and only agreed to do so if he could choose his producer. Jeff Lynne may not be everybody’s cup of tea but he did make a whole career in ELO from copying the mid-Beatles sound and there’s no doubting his ability to work magic. In this case, taking a poorly recorded song and making something exceptional. To balance the personnel that worked on the project, Paul McCartney chose Geoff Emerick as engineer whose autobiography “Here, There And Everywhere”, in which he was very mean towards George Harrison, was not published until 2006.
The best thing about “Free As A Bird”, in my humble opinion, is the video, which was directed by Joe Pytka who is a film, television, commercial and music video director. Over 80 references are made to Beatles songs in the video and it’s really good fun to try and spot them all.
The video starts with a bird flapping which, as well as referencing the song itself “Free As A Bird” is the same sound that started “Across The Universe”. The concept of the video is that this bird flies around and sees The Beatles and their songs, everywhere.
A mantelpiece has four pictures of young boys on it – they are (from left to right), Paul, John, Ringo, George. In front of George’s picture is an old brown shoe.
As the bird flies over 1967-era Beatles walking amongst a group of dockers, it starts to rain and people run and hide their heads. The bird sees queues of fans waiting to get into The Cavern, where 1962-era Beatles are playing and flies past a bouncer with a flat-top.
Next stop is the entrance to Strawberry Fields before seeing a van selling eggs – presumably the driver can say “I am the eggman”. A boy and a girl run past hand in hand and just before that the boy may have said that he wanted to hold her hand.
The 1964-era Beatles pass in front of the line of sight which then reveals a (pretty) nurse selling poppies from a tray and standing outside a barber’s shop with pictures of every head he’s had the pleasure to know (including The Beatles). On the wall next to the barber’s shop is a sign reading Help! The bird flies over a barrow in the marketplace.
A woman in a polythene raincoat comes out of a shop and her name is Pam – then a small boy whispers to a girl, presumably asking, listen, do you want to know a secret?
The 1967-era Beatles are back while a couple make out in a car. Is she asking him to drive her car or is he suggesting they do it in the road? The bakers has a birthday cake in it and it appears to be someone’s 64th birthday. Next door a shop is selling a silver hammer.
As George walks into the Savile Row office, we can see that it has been taken over by Dr. Robert.
Sadly, there has been a car crash (but no one has obviously lost their hair) and a crowd of people are standing and staring. A fire engine is on hand and it looks very clean and there are lots of pretty policemen in a row.
The bird now flies over a helter skelter, and nearly collides with a kite before it swoops to earth to see some children dressed as piggies. See how they run. A ladder is leaning against a bathroom window so that must be how she came in.
In a house on the other side of the alleyway, a writer is typing at what will soon be a paperback and his newspaper, The Daily Mail, is on a desk along with some green apples and a box of savoy truffles. The Beatles Ed Sullivan show is playing on the TV. The writer isn’t going to make it with anyone anyhow because he’s got a picture of Chairman Mao on the windowsill along with Her Majesty.
Outside again, we can see that someone has been fixing a hole where the rain has got in and a Blue Meanie is hovering. A woman gets into a newspaper taxi. She must be leaving home. In the distance, the Magical Mystery Tour bus passes by. John and Yoko can be seen dancing to “I Me Mine” from “Let It Be”.
In another house, Bungalow Bill arrives with his elephant and gun. The bird sees Brian Epstein, Stuart Sutcliffe and other people from the Sgt. Pepper cover who are glad to be able to say that the sun is coming here.
The bird flies towards Martha (my dear) running past Eleanor Rigby’s grave and away from the city we can see a long and winding road with Paul McCartney playing a fool. On a hill.
Finally the bird sees a meter maid crossing Abbey Road before passing into the theatre where the performance in A Hard Day’s Night was shown.
Watching this video is like wallowing in nostalgia. “Whatever happened to the life that we once knew? Can we really live without each other?“